Post-Democracy and the Populists

The basis of this discussion is linked to a video by Mark Steyn unsurprisingly titled Post-Democracy and the Populists. This video has been selected because it contrasts more of a willingness to ignore the conformity of political correctness in order to discuss issues of genuine concern to many. However, before considering Steyn’s video in any detail, it might be useful to provide some initial interpretation of the terminology implicit in the title. We might start by defining a somewhat conceptual notion of ‘democracy’ in terms of a government that is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ . However, in practice, the foundations of historical democracy were invariably a selective process in that only city residents who were adult, male and landowners were allowed to vote. As such, all women and slaves were automatically excluded, as were the poor in general – see opening page of ‘Political Evolution’ for more details. Of course, even today, we might question the scope of democracy, when choice is often restricted to just a few major political parties, which simply appear to alternate between government and opposition. For example, in the UK, voter democracy can be distorted by a ‘first pass the post’ system, as opposed to a ‘proportional representation’ system, such that the pie-chart on the left shows the actual parliamentary seats won, while the chart on the right is possibly more representative of voter democracy – see Political Endgame for more details.

So, if we initially accept the limitations of most democratic systems, as outlined above, we might question whether there has always been some form of minority that rules over the majority, such that it has come to assume a right to govern, either directly or indirectly. Again, by way of an initial definition of ‘post-democracy’, it might be seen to manifest itself in the form of an unelected bureaucracy, as possibly typified by the European Union (EU), which then seeks to promote a globalist agenda. In contrast, the ‘popularist’ position might possibly be seen to align to a more nationalist agenda that seeks to uphold the sovereignty of the nation-state and ‘possibly’ support the concerns of ordinary people.

  • However, the video adds another clarification of post-democracy in terms of it being based on a meritocracy of a new ruling class rather than the heredity of the past. In essence, the argument of this meritocracy rests on the qualifications and ability required to best rule the majority. While there may be some beneficial logic to this argument, Steyn questions whether this meritocracy might be biased towards certain political conclusions, based on their own self-interest rather than the wider interests of the majority. For it might be argued that if the ruling class of the new post-democracy were doing such a wonderful job for the majority, why has there been such a surge in popularism.

  • Based on the somewhat generalised description above, we might also characterise current developments in politics in terms of a globalist versus nationalist divide, where we possibly need to identify the pros and cons of each position. In principle, there is nothing wrong with the globalist position, especially in the context of solving global problems. However, there appears to be a growing mistrust in the meritocracy of a post-democratic elite, which when not directly elected, may simply pursue policies that do not necessarily help the wider majority, especially when viewed in terms of cultural divides established along national boundaries.

  • While isolationism behind national borders is not necessarily a ‘good thing’ , a pursuance of globalist policies that appear to disregard the impact on any groupings of the majority in terms of economic austerity, mass immigration plus both cultural and religious traditions is not necessarily a ‘good thing’ either. Within the level of growing mistrust suggested, conspiracy theories now abound about the scope of the deep-state and its possible manipulation of the democratic process, which is then compounded by the proliferation of ‘fake news’ through mainstream and social media.

  • The nature of the mistrust being suggested in the political establishment might be characterised in terms of the rare occasions that national governments have given the general public a vote, i.e. via referendum. For it often appears that the EU has worked behind the scenes to reverse the ‘ people’s vote’ if the vote goes against its preferred globalist agenda. Historically, the EU has affectively ignored or over-turned a number of referendums in member countries, e.g. Danish (1992), Ireland (2001), French and Dutch (2005), which many now consider to be undemocratic. However, these concerns appear to be especially true in terms of the UK decision to leave the EU, which was based on another majority vote of the British people. Whether the UK will be allowed to leave on mutually beneficial economic terms is still questionable as the EU’s priority appears to be to deter anybody else from leaving its political union, irrespective of the economic costs to both sides.

  • This discussion will not comment directly on the specific cases raised by Steyn, where individuals or even national governments have all too quickly been branded as ‘far-right’ without any real justification. However, it might be useful to clarify a general difference between left-right politics at this stage. Generally, the left-wing position favours more government intervention policies that appeared to serve and protect collective society from the excesses of capitalism, while the right-wing position is more orientated towards individual rights and civil liberties, where the role and power of the government is minimized. For a wider and more comprehensive description – see Left–Right Political Spectrum , although this left-right polarisation might now be questioned in terms of the following diagram.

  • The spectrum of positions suggested above might be more representative of how people, as individuals and collectively, view change in general. As such, it does not attempt to polarise their attitudes into the extremes of left or right ideologies, although it might be said that left, centre and right politics might be aligned to liberal, moderate and conservative attitude to change. However, in this context, it might be more difficult to determine how people will react to collective policies versus individual liberty along with the role and size of government. It can also be difficult to accurately position globalist versus nationalist politics within this spectrum, although we might assume that globalists are advocating more change in that they wish to effectively minimise the role of national governments, especially if biased toward certain cultural norms. However, we might simply need to consider the idea of winners and losers in the direction being proposed to understand why different groups have such different opinions on this process.

  • Based on the outline above, it is then suggested that the majority of people who are allowed to vote for a specific political candidate or party do not do so on the basis of an extremist left-right divide, but rather based on their acceptance or aversion to change. Therefore, in this context, the rise of many popularist and nationalist political parties around the world are not necessarily advocating a return to Far-Right Politics, but rather reacting to the imposition of political policies, which people do not like. So, as pointed out by Steyn, when a large section of the voting public supports a political party, we might question the motivation of those who immediately want to associate these people with some form of extremist far-right position and use this as an excuse for a form of character assassination by various means, e.g. mainstream and social media.

  • At this point, we possibly need to raise a provocative question by asking whether the voting public are always smart enough or knowledgeable enough to vote on important issues? At one level, the IQ bell curve might suggest that 50% of the population, by definition, are of less than average intelligence, while statistics may also suggest another percentage suffering from some sort of mental or stress disorder. See Social Evolution discussion for a wider debate of these issues. Of course, if you pursue what some might perceive to be politically incorrect logic, it must ultimately question the legitimacy of democracy in its current accepted form, especially if you then also question the intelligence and knowledge of the person being voted into office.

  • However, while we might believe that political power must reside with ‘the people’ in reality much of the real power often lies in the hands of institutions and corporations outside the democratic process accessible to the general public. If so, we might see why a post-democracy elite might wish to avoid major political decisions being decided by referendum, i.e. the voting public. In this respect, democracy may not really have progress that far beyond ancient Greece, where only certain residences of social stature were allowed to vote.

Clearly, some aspects of this discussion have extended the debate beyond the issues being forwarded in the Mark Steyn video. However, in part, this addendum is attempting to extrapolate the direction of politics from the present into some uncertain future, hence the reference to many of the discussions under the heading Brave New Worlds, which includes other factors that may well help shape the future of humanity. In this context, it is impossible to ignore the potential of technology, especially in the area of AI-Robotic Developments. One of the controversial issues raised in this discussion has been the effective role of ‘the majority’ in politics, both past and present. For there has been the suggestion that many of the ‘voting public’ may not have either the intelligence, knowledge or mental stability to decide rationally on any important issue, especially when information is now subject to so much obfuscation by mainstream and social media. Therefore, we might table a question at this point.

Might advances in AI come to minimise some of the irrationality of present-day politics?

Of course, many people will object to the suggestion within the question above, possibly based on Aristotle’s premise that politics is the primary activity through which ‘human beings’, rather than a machine, can improve their lives and create a better society. However, as pointed out, Aristotle’s idea of democracy was very different to the modern, albeit possibly naïve perception of political democracy ‘ of the people, by the people, for the people’ .

Note: It has been pointed out that early Greek democracy was a somewhat selective process in that only city residents who were adult, male and landowners were allowed to vote. As such, all women and slaves were automatically excluded, as were the poor in general. While this selection was undeniably unfair to intelligent and knowledgeable women, slaves and the poor, it might have possibly been an effective decision-making process, although this will undoubtedly be considered to be a politically incorrect conclusion.

However, the discussion up to this point has possibly been putting too much emphasis on the divide between the globalist and nationalist plus the role of the voting majority. While somewhat speculative in nature, it might be argued that most people are not really interested in politics as long as the government in power, be it left-right, democratic or even authoritarian, can deliver prosperity in terms of the economy. Although it is accepted that this argument is too simplistic in scope, broadly speaking, most people are still governed by what can be generally described as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which was originally outlined in a discussion entitled ‘Evolving Human Needs’ and then expanded in ‘Social Catalyst’. If so, people may accept almost any form of political governance as long as it does not adversely affect their lives, which might then explain the popular swing towards the nationalist position because many people now perceive that their lives are now being adversely affected in terms of the economy, which they might then blame on any number of issues, e.g. globalism or immigration.

So where do we go from here?

In part, no real attempt will be made to answer this question at this point, although some further reference might be may to the future of AI in human affairs, as suggested above. Today, many may have heard that an AI machine called AlphaGo beat the human world-champion in the board game ‘Go’ four games to one in 2016. However, what many people might not have yet heard is that a new version called AlphaGo-Zero has now beaten AlphaGo 100 games to zero. While this appears to be an amazing one-sided result, it might also be highlighted that AlphaGo required guided training, via thousands of games, in order to learn how to play Go. In contrast, AlphaGo-Zero learnt to play simply by playing games against itself in just 21 days. So, while this is not an AI that can yet replace human decision-making, it might suggest the probable direction of Technology Evolution.